The current trajectory that Georgia junior linebacker Monty Rice is on represents a path of growth and he’s primed to breakout as premiere defensive playmaker in the SEC over the remainder of 2019.
In 2017 as a junior, Rice played in the shadows of top-10 NFL Draft pick Roquan Smith who was the undisputed leader of the Bulldogs defense and one of the most dynamic players in all of college football that season. While Georgia’s overall defense wasn’t nearly as dominant in 2018 as it was in 2017, it was an important year of development for Rice.
Playing in nine games while starting five as a sophomore in 2018, Rice was Georgia’s third-leading tackler with 59 tackles despite missing five games due to injury. Among the games Rice missed were the loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game and Georgia’s disappointing performance in the Sugar Bowl against Texas.
For a Georgia team with lofty expectations in 2019, Rice being able to emerge as a playmaker and leader will be critical for the Bulldogs to achieve its goals. Over the summer UGA announced that Rice was one of five Georgia student-athletes selected to participate in a joint meeting of SEC student-athlete leadership councils at the Student Athlete Advisory Committee in Birmingham.
Now the starter and leader of Georgia’s defense, the lightbulb is coming on for Rice in the early portions of 2019. Although Rice had impressive moments in 2018, I like the player I’m seeing on film in 2019 much better.
The first thing I notice is that Rice is a much quicker processor and his trigger is much more rapid. There were times in 2018 where he was calculated when committing to pursuit and he didn’t fully trust his keys. Rice is a much more confident player this year.
While Rice’s key and diagnose ability looks much better this year, the same exciting traits that put him on the NFL radar still look outstanding. First, Rice is a finisher and a consistent one in that.
I’m really impressed that Rice is such a consistent tackler because I don't think he has the best length. What makes him so secure is how controlled he plays. It's not that he doesn’t play fast or aggressively, it’s that he doesn’t have great length. Rice does well to take good angles to the football, wrap up and bring his feet through the ball carrier. And he packs a punch. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Rice features a stocky build and he’s fairly compact which leads to powerful hits. I really like his overall contact balance and functional strength.
In today’s age of football, range and fluidity are paramount traits in second level defenders, and Rice certainly checks those boxes. While he has room to grow in terms of route anticipation skills, his pedal and change of direction ability are smooth. Rice also doesn’t have limitations getting outside the tackles and making plays to the sideline in space.
Despite so many exciting components to his makeup and game as an NFL Prospect, Rice is slept on. When the SEC released the Preseason All-SEC Teams, Rice’s name couldn’t be found among the nine linebackers listed. If he continues to play like has throughout the course of Georgia’s remaining schedule, that’ll change when the actual All-Conference squad is finalized after the season.
In a battle of top-10 teams, Georgia hosts Notre Dame on Saturday and is a two touchdown favorite over the Irish. If the Bulldogs cover that spread and come away with a statement win, Rice will be a big reason why. Rice on on track to becoming a top linebacker prospect.